By Bob Chrisman
When I was eight, I received a new robin’s egg blue, girl’s bike for my birthday in May. I had selected that particular bike at the shop in the South End where we lived. I wanted a girl’s bicycle so I wouldn’t hurt myself every time I slid off the seat when I stopped. That always happened on boy’s bicycles and kept me from enjoying riding.
My father looked at the price tag and shook his head. “I don’t think we can afford this much. Let me talk with your mother.”
At eight years old, I had already heard that one phrase, “I don’t think we can afford this much” so often that I knew I would never own the bike I wanted. That’s the way things worked in my family: you didn’t get what you couldn’t afford and we couldn’t afford much at all.
On the morning of my birthday I ate my breakfast and opened my birthday cards. When I asked if I had any presents, my mother rolled the bicycle I’d picked out into the kitchen. “Your daddy and I decided that you were old enough to have this, even though it cost more than we would usually spend for a present. You’ve got to take good care of it. Okay?”
I leapt out of my chair and grabbed the bike before it vanished. Only when I held the handlebars in my own hands was it real. I had the bike I wanted.
Later that morning I opened the screen door and made sure to pull the bike out before the door slammed. I took it down all the stairs to the sidewalk and rolled it down the hill until I reached Ozark Street which was flat and graveled. Only then did I climb on my new bike and pedal along the street with the wind in my face. I felt so happy and so proud.
My friends congregated up the street and I rode my new bike up there to visit with them and show them my birthday present.
When I arrived, one of the boys said, “Hey, Bobby, why you got a girl’s bike? You a sissy?”
“No, I wanted a girl’s bike because it’s easier to get on and off. That’s why.”
“No, you’re a sissy. He’s a sissy, isn’t he?”
Then the kid said, “I want to ride your sissy bike.”
“No, you can’t. It’s brand new. I just got it and I want to ride it for awhile before anyone else does.” I held on tight to the handlebars.
“Hey, sissy, that’s not very nice. But, I don’t want to ride a blue girl’s bike anyway.”
I turned around to ride home. The kids screamed names at me as I rode away. I’d reached the end of the block when a clunk sounded on my rear fender. A cheer went up from the kids. I crossed the intersection and started pushing the bicycle up the hill. When I was out of sight of my friends, I looked at the rear fender. Someone had thrown a big rock and dented and scraped a place on my new bike. I lost it. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, but I pushed the bike up the hill, up the stairs and parked it on the porch.
My mother came running out of the house. “What’s wrong? Did you fall?”
I couldn’t speak so I pointed at the rear fender. My mother looked at the damage. “So that’s what you’re crying about? For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bicycle.”
No, it was so much more than that.